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Asset-management software can help not only with inventory but with acquisition, configuration, tracking and replacement of an agency’s gear

A place for everything and everything in its place is a noble sentiment, but agencies often have a hard time just keeping track of what they have, never mind where it is. Asset management software can help — and not only with inventory but also with acquisition, configuration, tracking and replacement of an agency’s gear.

Originally, asset management software was designed to deliver simple inventories of physical assets. Its role has since expanded to include nonphysical assets, such as software, and tasks in every part of the asset life cycle.

“Asset management is now more strategic, including planning and financial analysis,” said William Clark, public-sector chief technology officer at CA. “If you do this correctly, you can save millions of dollars.”

According to a 2006 Gartner report, “Through 2010, customers that commit a minimum of 3 percent of their annual operating budgets to [information technology] asset managemet programs and tools can expect a 25 percent reduction in their total cost of ownership.”

Of course, you could simply create a spreadsheet or database to track your assets. But a good asset managemet system can do far more than present a list. It can save time, effort and money by actively managing assets.

For starters, it is important to define which assets you want asset managemet software to handle. Only computer hardware? Software? Licenses? Noncomputer assets? All agency assets? Your decisions will simplify your choice of solutions but could narrow the utility of the solution you choose. For example, a system that manages everything from paper clips to aircraft carriers might not have the depth to, say, track licenses for the software you use.

Keep in mind that you can choose not to manage everything. “The cost to track every mouse and keyboard may be more than the item is worth,” said Barbara Rembiesa, president of the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM).

On the other hand, inexpensive items, such as flash drives, could be worth tracking because of the value of the data they contain or their importance to the agency. Agency employees can help you decide what to track.

Mind your assets

Asset managemet software overlaps with many other functions, such as acquisition, configuration management, license management, logistics, shipping, facilities planning, accounting, help desk, maintenance and disposal. Because of that overlap, Rembiesa said, it’s important to be aware of integration issues.

“Flexibility is essential to help your agency satisfy its goals,” said Ron Lanzo, industry solution product manager for IBM’s Maximo asset managemet tool.

Also, consider whether you need to coordinate data with other agencies or even other countries. Be sure that the systems — or at least the data — are compatible.

Reporting is perhaps the most important function of asset managemet software. “It takes a lot of analysis to bring common sense to assets,” said David Shannon, senior vice president of marketing, product management and strategy at Savi Technology.

Make sure potential solutions offer the kinds of reports you need in the formats you require. You probably don’t want to see reports on all your assets all the time, but you do want to see the problem assets that require timely handling.

“Most administrators prefer reports by exception,” Rembiesa said. For example, if products offer on-screen dashboards, make sure you can configure them to give you what you need when you need it.

Alerting is a related function. When assets require immediate attention, the product should be able to send administrators an alert of some kind via e-mail or text message to a handheld device.

Before adding technology to the asset managemet picture, make sure you have the proper procedures in place. “Agencies should get their asset managemet workflows correct first,” Rembiesa said.

There’s no point automating a process that doesn’t work well. In addition, be aware of the policies and standards governing assets, such as rules on acquisition, deployment and disposal.

Configuring a generic asset managemet solution to your specific needs can be difficult. Some solutions, such as IBM’s Maximo, include design templates that let you drag and drop roles, decisions, interactions and operations to customize your workflow. Similarly, the ability to modify the user interface to mirror a familiar form or application can be beneficial.

If you need to be able to manage assets remotely, a Web-based interface would be a plus. For example, military aircraft engines must be stored at specific levels of heat and humidity. Such requirements can be difficult to track, especially with mobile assets. The ability to define, modify and access an asset’s metadata should be part of any solution.

If your agency uses bar codes or radio frequency identification tags to inventory assets, make sure your asset managemet solution can handle them. When it comes to implementation, a phased approach is often best.

“Automating current processes is a good method,” said Carol Piccus, principal consultant for technical sales at CA. Afterward, the agency can expand from an established base of processes to encompass a broader set of assets or a more strategic view.

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